Abida Mian's Blog

An outlier that's living, learning and being myself…

Quora Question: Have you ever been a witness to or encountered racism?

Until a couple of months ago, I was ignorant to the fact that racism still very much exists.

It was just after midnight and I was collecting a package from the reception area of the building that I live in. I’ve known the night porter for over a decade, and we would usually chat for a bit whenever I saw him. 
We were interrupted by a young Chinese couple. They had been on a night out and said they wanted to collect the spare key to the flat, they knew one was there as a contractor used it to get in a week before. The keys are held in a pouch with a card with the names of the people that it can be released to, lo and behold the girls name wasn’t on there. The porter couldn’t release the keys to them. The couple start to get irate, “I’ve lived here since September when I started my course at Imperial College,” the young lady retorted. The lady had forgotten her set of keys in the flat, but her sister was inside but not answering her calls, as she was most likely asleep. 

No-one can get through the glass doors without a swipe card, but sneakily the couple saw an opportunity to tag along behind a lady who was just about to open the doors. The porter lept out of his chair and stopped them. This then provoked the couple to mutter, “I can’t believe this niger servant won’t let us through, who does he think he is.”

Wow, I was taken aback by the comment. The porter didn’t say anything. Now the old me would have hated confrontation, stood back and kept quiet. But I lost it, this was the porter that I’d see most days when I came home from work, more than I would see my family. I respected him. 

I directly stood up to them, “don’t speak to him like that, who the hell do you think you are, why are you using offensive language when it has no bearing on you being locked out of your flat, it’s your own stupidity, and it’s not his job to sort it out.”

I found myself taking control of the situation:

“Right, this is how the real world works, I hope you take note. You’re tenants, not legal owners. The porter’s job is to ensure no-one without valid entry goes through those glass doors. I’m a legal owner of my flat, not tenant, I pay service charges to the building management company, part of this is to ensure security of our building. There are sixteen floors, God knows how many occupants. He doesn’t know who the f**k you are (excuse my English). The set of keys they have were given by your landlord to them to hold for contractors to gain entry when for example tenants work during the day. They are not your set of keys. There is no reference to your names on the card. He doesn’t know you’re the tenants, most likely you’ve gone through an agency. The porter has a set of procedures to follow, you can’t have the keys, simple. Speaking as an owner, he’s followed what I perceive as the right course of action. Yes, I appreciate your frustration, but quite frankly, you’re incredibly petulant. Let me ask, do you have emails on your phone?” The girl said “yes” I said, “then show me a copy of your tenancy agreement.” She didn’t have it. “Well how is the porter expected to let you in?” Now, I studied at Imperial, in fact I got a first-class degree in Physics, but that doesn’t matter, common sense isn’t taught at university, neither is being grounded and respectful of people, but do you know what, I’m going to offer you a solution. The porter takes the keys and goes with you to the flat. If your sister is indeed inside, she will verify who you are.”

Off they go. Porter comes back, he said that the sister inside took ages to open the door, and even then was acting very weird towards the couple, and reluctantly let them inside. The porter said, “there’s something weird going on there, I think she wasn’t answering her sisters calls because she didn’t want them in the flat.” I laughed, “would you?”

By surprise the couple came down said thank you to me, and apologised to the porter. The porter said, “you know Abi, you didn’t have to fight my corner, I’m used to being called the ‘n’ word.” To which I replied, “no one speaks to you like that ever, and if they do, I’ll be there to put them in their box, I’m not timid anymore, I wear big girl pants now and can tackle confrontation :)”

Racism exists, I was astonished that such an abhorrent word came out of the mouths of what looked like a seemingly decent looking couple. It’s certainly not confined to lager louts.

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